Our last week in Agonda took quite a social turn. First, dinner with Lakshmi and her family. We’ve known her since they first came to Agonda eight years ago and she opened her shop selling cheap clothing and trinkets to tourists.
Somehow she’s supported a family of four children on this meager income. Her husband may work sporadically but is often hanging around the shop or cooking meals at home. Her eldest daughter, Manjula, now works in a casino in north Goa, improving the family’s finances. Krishna and Puja both in their late teens help manage the shop. Krishna is supposed to start training soon to also work in a casino. Fourteen-year-old Mohan, being the baby of the family, tends to be spoiled and has an easy life of soccer playing and surfboarding that I don’t think his older siblings ever had.
This year, for the first time, Lakshmi invited us to visit her home. Her husband, Ramesh, and Puja would cook rice and dahl for us. They live in a very basic three-room house with no running water, but we were made to feel completely at home and we relaxed into the family atmosphere. The most ornate feature in the living room was a shelf holding a family shrine complete with a picture of their guru and a photo of Ramesh’s father. If it weren’t for the flashing lights around the shrine, an old box television and the cellphone charging on the wall, the scene was timeless. We were reminded of sparse rooms in Morocco, sitting with similarly hospitable families, forty years ago. The TV stayed on the whole time we were there, quietly playing an Indian version of the Oscars that happened a year ago and still reruns on a weekly basis, Puja told us.
Puja served us dahl, brindi baji and rice. Simple, but honestly the tastiest meal we’d had in Agonda. We persuaded Lakshmi to eat a little with us. Daughter and father, Puja and Ramesh, sat on the day bed chatting and laughing. They will eat later, at 10 pm after they’ve closed the shop. Lakshmi reminded us of her career in sales starting at the age of seven, when her uncle (she was an orphan) would send her with a small bag of trinkets to the beach. She learned English from the tourists in the process. Her daughter, Manjula, hopes to get a job on a cruise ship earning a substantial salary and wants her mother to finally stop working. But Lakshmi says, “Then what will I do? I can’t stay home all the time.” Before we left, Puja took me outside to see the well that supplies them good drinking water. We looked down into a deep dark hole where she shone her phone light to see fishes and frogs swimming around.
The following day we visited “six-meter Peter” a beanpole of a man from Switzerland who comes to Agonda every winter carrying his violin and jazz guitar. He practices long hours during the day and plays in a restaurant at night when invited. He first came to Agonda long before the rest of us. He has a photo from 1986 when it was a large empty beach with only a couple of buildings nestled in the jungle reaching down to the sea.
Peter rents a house back in the village. His Polish wife, as plump as he is skinny, comes for two weeks; Peter stays for two and half months. We arrived to find him sitting on the porch practicing his guitar.
Though only a mile or so away, the residential neighborhood was a far cry from the tourist beach scene. No noisy motorbikes and taxis, only children riding their pushbikes on the empty street, playing in the yard,
a man up a tree perilously hacking branches off to clear the telephone wires.
Five days before we were leaving, our friend Jonny from England arrived. We first became friends in Agonda six years ago, and have met up in various parts of India over the years, and also kept in touch via email. But the last time we saw him was over two years ago, when we stopped off in England on the way back from India. It was good to be together again, if only for a few days.
When he offered to take one of us on the back of his scooter for a day out we jumped at the opportunity to visit another beach down the coast, and managed to cajole another friend, Mickey from Vichy, to come along too. Gerard with his dyslexia is loth to rent a scooter in India and I haven’t driven since we moved into the inner city. It keeps us beach bound. But driving through the countryside, I realized why so many tourists take the risk. Beware of pigs crossing, cows meandering, dogs sleeping, chickens scampering — not to mention crazy Goan drivers.
We had visited the out-of-the way beach a year ago and like everywhere else tourism is flourishing. It won’t remain the quaint destination that it is now for very much longer. But for us, it was a break from the hubbub of Agonda and a wonderful place to spend our last day in Goa.